Many humans would be anxious about First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, if it ever happens some day. A quick review of First Contact fiction plots in popular media shows the anxiety quite clearly. Books and movies have dwelled on the negative for decades. And there is a possibility that First Contact could be a real problem for humans. However, it seems more likely that First Contact would be a mixed bag of positive and negative impacts. It also seems likely that many of the outcomes will depend on how humans respond to First Contact. Negative outcomes may be due to negative human reaction and have nothing to do with aliens. Managing those reactions will be important in the wake of First Contact.
I think it would be important to maintain the “humanity” in any First Contact event. That can be accomplished with honest communication, transparency in action and the use of humor.
Why humor? It’s a human way of relieving tension and acknowledging fears, and could help to calm people. Serious matters would need to be handled seriously, but there should be plenty of room in the process for humor. Such techniques would, of course, depend on the nature of First Contact. If aliens are reigning down missiles on Washington and Moscow, humor wouldn’t be such a good idea. But in a more positive scenario, humor could serve to act as a reassuring anchor for people watching First Contact coverage. Humor would remind them that this is a human event and not the end of the world. Aside from relieving tension, humor can help in communication. It is a way to address concerns and counteract negative stereotypes with less confrontation than a more direct approach.
Governments don’t do a very good job utilizing humor. Some politicians have learned the value of the technique. And that’s an important point. Institutions can’t show a sense of humor about a situation, but people can. Humor, honesty and transparency will need to start with the major human players in a First Contact situation. Hopefully, with good examples from those individuals and good results, it could be a foundation for the process going forward.
The most important part of communication would be honesty. Humans have been trained by Hollywood writers to expect conspiracy in an alien First Contact scenario. The best way to be honest is to be transparent. The entire human population has a right to know exactly what is occurring at each step in the process After First Contact. Meetings should be made public, whenever possible. At the very least, closed door meetings should be summarized for the public afterwards. This would not be easy to achieve without a struggle. Governments often act behind closed doors when it comes to security decisions. There would be many security considerations in a Direct First Contact situation. Governmental leaders would need to weigh their options carefully. The benefit of having a closed door meeting, and not reporting on the outcome of that meeting, could be minimal compared to the value of keeping the public informed and calm.
Perhaps the biggest fear in the back of the collective human mind in a First Contact event would be the alien perspective. Will it overwhelm our human world? Will we somehow lose our humanity in the process of having a relationship with extraterrestrials? Humor and honesty could help to keep the process of Contact human in nature, and thus understandable, and hopefully acceptable, to the world public.
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